Birthed out of a “series of workshops on Luke’s Gospel,” The Hospitality of God takes its readers on a literary odyssey through the work of the third Evangelist, whom Dante famously described as scriba mansuetudinus Christi: the “narrator of the winning gentleness of Christ” (p. 1). In this monograph, Brendan Byrne (Professor of New Testament at the Jesuit Theological College in Melbourne, Australia) adopts a literary rather than historical approach to Luke—think Luke Timothy Johnson or Robert Tannehill—and inductively argues his thesis that those who hospitably receive Jesus as guest will be drawn into “a much wider sphere of hospitality: the hospitality of God” (pp. 5, 8).
While there has been a pervasive trend in Lukan scholarship recently in studying the theme of “hospitality,” Byrne’s volume (revised from the original 2000 edition) makes a unique contribution as it traces this theme through the entirety of Luke, rather than merely focusing on a handful of key texts. This is because, for Byrne, “Luke sees the whole life and ministry of Jesus as a visitation on God’s part to Israel and the world” (p. 8, emphasis original). Moreover, Byrne’s literary study uncovers a triangular pattern of relationships within numerous Lukan pericopes in which three groups of characters—namely Jesus, the “marginalized” persons in need of salvation, and those murmuring against Jesus/them—are presented by Luke, “by way of contrast,” to show the diversity of human response to Jesus as “guest” (pp. 9–10). Byrne suggests that this triadic arrangement of characters implicitly posits in the mind of Luke’s hearers/readers the questions of “Who is showing hospitality to Jesus?” and “Who is in most need of conversion—the marginalized or the murmurers?” (p. 9).
Structurally, Byrne sees Luke-Acts as a singular drama/story spanning three stages: 1) the era of promises (i.e., the prophecies contained within the Scriptures of the Old Testament with the transition of the infancy narrative and preaching of John the Baptist in Luke 1:1–3:20); 2) the “day” of Jesus (Luke 3:21–24:53 with the transition of Pentecost in Acts 1:1–26); and 3) the “day” of the Church (Acts 2:1–28:31, which concludes at the time of judgment [pp. 11–14]). Byrne’s work consists of a brief, seven-page introduction, a newly-added section discussing the features of Luke’s Gospel, a literary analysis tracing the theme of hospitality throughout Luke’s twenty-four chapters, and lastly, a concluding synthesis of twenty-one “quasi-theses” derived from Byrne’s literary analysis of Luke’s text (pp. 213–15). Bibliography, Scripture, modern author, and subject indices are included as well.
Byrne helpfully posits some of his a priori assumptions regarding Luke’s Gospel in his introduction. Byrne takes Luke in its final, canonical form, sees the author as a “third-generation Christian” writing sometime after the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman armies in the year 70,” presupposes the literary unity of Luke-Acts, and follows the “majority” of scholars that espouse the “Two-Source” theory of the Synoptic Gospels with Luke’s unique “insertions” (e.g., Luke 9:51–18:14) stemming from his so-called “Sayings Source that scholars reconstruct and call ‘Q’” (pp. 4–5, 106).
Numerous strengths mark Byrne’s work. It is easily accessible (both in content and price) and includes helpful graphics that adroitly illustrate key concepts. Further, Byrne’s “Features of Luke’s Gospel” chapter should prove beneficial as it succinctly summarizes key concepts and theological motifs within Luke. This section alone is worth the price of this book.
Despite Byrne’s contributions, there is room for improvement. First, despite being (mostly) well-written, Byrne’s work features transliterations of Greek words (e.g., σπλαγχνίζομαι) that deviate from the SBL standards (pp. 82, 114, 118, 145). While his choice to transliterate is understandable given his target audience of pastors, students, and laity, Byrne should have ensured that the transliteration standards were consistently met. Byrne also repeats himself with a redundant discussion of the exegetical pitfalls of the moniker “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25–37), which should have been omitted in the proofreading/editing process (pp. 113, 115). Second, Byrne exhibits too much dependence on only a handful of sources (especially in his reliance on Fitzmyer). This is elucidated when perusing the paucity of references within Byrne’s two-and-a-half-page bibliography. Third, Byrne seems to a priori reject much of the historical value of Luke-Acts, and this skepticism colors his exegesis (pp. 24, 60–70, 94, 136–37, 212). Furthermore, Byrne seems to caricature those who read various Lukan texts literally (e.g., Luke 21:27) by labeling them pejoratively as “fundamentalists” (p. 180). This is unfortunate, and does not seem very hospitable in a book written on the subject of hospitality. If Byrne intended his book to be read only by those swimming within his own theological/hermeneutical stream, he should have stated this in his introduction.
In sum, Byrne’s The Hospitality of God is not perfect. However, busy pastors and students alike should appreciate this volume as a useful and accessible resource that quickly summarizes key concepts in preaching/teaching through Luke’s Gospel. Those looking for a more traditional, historical-critical commentary will be left wanting, but those wanting to quickly grasp a holistic picture of Luke’s literary structure and artistry will not be disappointed.